A Handbook of Legendary and Mythological Art – The Glory, Aureole and Nimbus


The Glory, Aureole, and Nimbus, all represent light or brightness, and are the symbols of sanctity. The nimbus surrounds the head; the aureole encircles the whole body, and the glory is the union of the nimbus and aureole. The nimbus belongs to all holy persons and saints as well as to the representations of divinity. The aureole, strictly speaking, belongs only to the persons of the Godhead, but the Virgin Mary is invested with it —

(1) when she holds the Saviour in her arms;

(2) in pictures of the Assumption;

(3) when she is represented as the intercessor for humanity at the last judgment;

(4) when represented as the Woman of the Apocalypse. The aureole has also been used as a symbol of the apotheosis of holy persons;

but this is a degeneration from its original design and the use assigned it in ancient traditions.

The Glory also belongs especially to God and the Virgin. The oblong aureole is called in Latin, vesica piscis; in Italian, the mandorla, (almond). The cruciform or triangular nimbus, or the figure of a cross in the nimbus, belong properly to the persons of the Trinity the nimbus of saints and lesser beings should be circular. A square nimbus is used for persons still living when the representation was made; the hexagonal nimbus for allegorical personages. These symbols did not appear in Christian art until the fifth century, and during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries they disappeared. They are, however, employed in the present day, although not with the careful distinction in the employment of the various forms which characterized their earliest use. The color of these symbols in painting is golden, or that which represents light; in some instances, in miniatures, or on glass, they are of various colors. Didron believes these to be symbolical, but is not sure of the signification of the colors.

MLA Citation

  • Clara Erskine Clement. “The Glory, Aureole and Nimbus”. A Handbook of Legendary and Mythological Art, 1871. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 February 2017. Web. 22 April 2019. <>